Youth Climate Lawsuits: A Global Movement for Environmental Justice

Monica Sanders
3 min readOct 3, 2023

In August, a group of young people from Montana achieved an unprecedented victory in a climate change trial. As I wrote for Forbes.com these mark the beginning of a new era in environmental litigation. Represented by the nonprofit law firm “Our Children’s Trust,” these youth set a precedent that is now spreading across the United States and beyond.

Expanding the Movement

Virginia and Utah have similar cases coming up in appellate and supreme courts later this year. In “Layla v. Commonwealth of Virginia,” plaintiffs challenge the state’s reliance on fossil fuels and its permitting practices, arguing that it violates constitutional rights. In “Natalie R. v. State of Utah,” plaintiffs accuse the state of contributing to hazardous air quality and climate crisis impacts, violating state constitutional rights. These cases raise critical questions about enforceability, as they rely on specific constitutional or statutory language present in only a few states.

Climate litigation is not limited to the United States. Cases in Oregon and Hawaii, as well as in the European Union, are gaining momentum. In the European Court of Human Rights, the “Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and 32 Other States” case is pending, with six Portuguese youths alleging that inaction against climate change violates their human rights. Additionally, a 2021 French court ruling set a precedent for climate-induced migration as a human rights violation. These cases underscore a growing global movement.

Using the Courts for Generational Change

These cases are unique in that they demand legal or policy changes rather than financial damages. They are brought by the emerging generation, Gen Z, characterized by diversity across demographics and political ideologies. Gen Z is making its voice heard through voting habits, policy challenges, and now, legal action. As the public, policymakers, and the courts observe these youth climate action cases, it is clear that this movement is here to stay.

Recent Developments

One significant development is the ongoing hearing of the “Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and 32 Other States” case in the European Court of Human Rights. The case can now be watched online, allowing people worldwide to follow its progress.

Furthermore, the right to a healthy environment has become a central topic at…

--

--

Monica Sanders

Founder, The Undivide Project (www.theundivideproject.org); Activist-Scholar; Professor@Georgetown; Senior Fellow, Tulane Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy